When No. 5 Johns Hopkins plays top-ranked Syracuse in the NCAA Division I semifinals at Penn's Franklin Field on Saturday, the Blue Jays will need a well-balanced half-field offense, good shot selection and offensive calls at the right time.
And, for most of this to happen, Hopkins senior attackman Jeff Wills has to have a great game.
Wills, from Loyola High, is the Blue Jays' quarterback on the field. He has directed Hopkins to an 8-4 record this season, including Saturday's 15-8 quarterfinal win over Towson State.
But Syracuse is different.
The Orangemen (12-1) love to run and punish other teams for their mistakes. Hopkins will have to be poised and deliberate, or the Blue Jays could end up as several other Syracuse opponents have this season. Blown out.
"The coach has put a lot of responsibility on my shoulders, and it'sa challenge that I love," Wills said. "I'm the guy who decides how we will attack. More importantly, my job is to control the tempo of the game. Just because we're playing Syracuse, we will be smart and very disciplined. We've always played them that way."
Wills has handled the job with a relative calm and a lot of success. It was an entirely different role from a year ago, when he was part of the support group for leading scorer Matt Panetta.
But after Panetta was graduated, Johns Hopkins coach Tony Seaman made Wills his on-the-field coach. Wills made some adjustments with new line-mates Terry Riordan, a freshman, and sophomore Brian Piccola, but Seaman said he was totally in charge by midseason, especially in a 22-12 win over Navy.
"I think that's when he finally came out and said, 'This is your role, make sure you're going to do it and that's the end of it,' " Seaman said. "He communicates our offense, and, ever since that Navy game, except for the first eight minutes in the first game against Towson, we have played pretty well."
Another attackman, when asked to fill such a void, might have tried to increase his scoring, but not Wills. His goal totals are slightly better than last season (23 in 1991, 27 in 1992), but he has doubled his assists.
Against Towson last Saturday night, Piccola had six goals, and Wills had five assists. The Hopkins attack was not expected to be a strong point this season, but Riordan has 36 goals and 16 assists, and Piccola has 56 points (32 goals, 24 assists).
"I have seen Jeff Wills play the last four years, and I have never seen him play better," said Carl Runk, Towson State's coach. "I think he's at the top of his game."
"It was nice having a Matt Panetta around, very nice," Wills said. "But one aspect of my game that I really wanted to improve on was learning to see other players on the field. I took a ribbing last year because my statistics were so unbalanced. I think I've improved my game, and I'm pretty proud of my assists totals."
"Jeff is a very quick player," Seaman said. "He's smart, and the guy just works very hard. He's always had a lot of natural talent, but he's not the type to sit around and waste it. He's used every bit of it to his advantage."
Wills says his career at Hopkins won't be complete until he wins a national championship ring. According to Wills, every class at Hopkins except for one had won at least one championship ring since the tournament started in 1971.
"Some teams shoot for the playoffs, we shoot for the national championship," Wills said. "I don't want to be the second group to leave here without a ring."
Where: Franklin Field, Philadelphia
Men's Division I semifinals:
Johns Hopkins vs. Syracuse, 1 p.m.
Princeton vs. North Carolina, 4 p.m.
Men's Division III championship: noon
Tickets: Package for all four games is $25. Tickets also can be purchased for games Saturday ($14 for both semifinals), Sunday ($7) and Monday ($12). All tickets, including the three - day package, are general admission and can be purchased at the gate. Franklin Field seats 67,000. For more information, call (215) 898-6151. The $25 three-day packages also are available at Lax World in Kenilworth Mall in Towson. Call (410) 321-7333.